The Natural Resources Defense Council today announced the launch of a campaign to raise federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards to 60 mpg by 2025, cutting the country’s carbon emissions by 6 percent below current levels. The campaign will utilize television, print and web advertising, and comes as the EPA and NHTSA prepare to take action on proposals to set pollution and fuel economy standards for passenger and commercial vehicles for model years 2017 – 2025. In 2012, the first Congressional increase in fuel economy standards in more than three decades is set to kick in, mandating an increase to 35 mpg by 2016.
The NRDC and the 18 other environmental groups that will participating in the campaign, hope that the next round of CAFE increases will be even more ambitious than the first, increasing average fuel economy by more than 70 percent in just eight years. In a conference call with reporters this morning, the NRDC denied that 60 mpg is an unrealistic request, with one representative calling the goal “a modest task” for the auto industry.
In order to achieve 60 mpg, the NRDC says that carmakers would simply have to better incorporate existing fuel-saving technologies into their product lines. The group says that a mix of 30 percent conventional gas cars, 15 percent electric vehicles and 55 percent hybrids would be sufficient to reach the standard. That would be a very big jump in market share for hybrids, which even the most optimistic analysts expect to account for just 20 percent of car market by 2020. Still, as the NRDC points out, the technology is there and if the federal government forces its hand, the auto industry should be capable of deploying it into as many vehicles as necessary.
Using excerpts from three NRDC blog posts on the subject, we’ll try to bring you up to speed on the details of the proposal and what it means for hybrids.
What kind of action is the government expected to take and when can we expect a final ruling?
Roland Hwang: “According to President Obama’s memorandum, it will announce ‘plans for setting stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles of model year 2017 and beyond, including plans for initiating joint rulemaking…’ The ‘Draft Proposed Rulemaking’ will not be released until mid 2011 when EPA and NHTSA will begin accepting public comments period from stakeholders. A final rule is not expected until late 2011 or early 2012.”
What exactly does this campaign hope to see mandated?
Luke Tonachel: “To capture the full benefits of cost-effective vehicle technologies, the agencies should ramp up new car and light truck Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to at least 60 miles per gallon and limit pollution to no more than 143 grams of carbon dioxide per mile by 2025. EPA and DOT should also set standards that cut fuel consumption and global warming pollution by 35 percent from long-haul tractor-trailer trucks and the maximum feasible reductions for other trucks.”
Is it even possible for the auto industry to meet this standard given that it essentially amounts to almost a 200 percent increase in fuel efficiency in just 15 years?
Peter Lehner: “Some auto companies say these new rules would hurt the car industry. They said the same thing when the government first required seatbelts and airbags. Instead of listening to those that say ‘it can’t be done,’ we need to set strong standards so that automakers can harness old-fashioned American ingenuity… A recent study from the University of Michigan confirms that technology is not the limiting factor. Indeed, it estimates that fuel efficiency can be tripled, to almost 75 mpg, by 2035.”
LT: “Analyses by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, demonstrate the potential for advanced internal combustion engine vehicles to reduce fuel consumption by 40 percent and conventional hybrids by 55 percent from today’s average vehicles… Broad application of these technologies could result in petroleum-only vehicles that average 55 mpg in the middle of the next decade.”
Even with a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency for conventional gas engines, hybrids would have to shoulder a big part of the load to meet this standard. Is it possible to build the hybrid market share to 55 percent in such a short amount of time?
PL: “Over the next five years, automakers are planning to rapidly increase offerings, from today’s 23 models of hybrids, to more than 100 conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric cars. Already we have seen the power of the hybrid to dramatically change the game. Just 10 years ago, hybrids were novel and untested. Now they are all over the road and available in many models. This is a sound, proven technology. More automakers should embrace it.”
Is there any evidence that the White House would even consider such an ambitious new standard?
RH: “Our 60 mpg target is consistent with what the President believes is possible and what California expects. On May 21st, the President asked the agencies to develop ‘stringent’ standards for cars and light trucks and specifically stating, ‘I believe that it’s possible, in the next 20 years, for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today.’ California, in its letter of commitment, outlined its expectation of a proposal that would deliver an annual rate of improvement ‘ in the 3 to 6 percent range.’”
LT: “The Administration has a tremendous opportunity with these upcoming standards to cut fuel consumption and pollution from cars and trucks. Improved efficiency is good for car owners and truckers because it helps relieve the pain at the pump. Better truck efficiency also benefits consumers by helping to reduce the cost of shipped goods. Strong vehicle performance standards are critical for improving our energy security and our environment.”